P2W | What Does Pay to Win Mean (plus examples)?

You’ve likely come across a fellow gamer stating that you shouldn’t play a game because it’s “pay to win”.

What is a pay to win game? A pay to win game, or P2W, refers to a free-to-play game where players receive a competitive advantage by unlocking unobtainable items or abilities when purchased using a real-life currency.

In this article, we will really dive into the specifics of what a pay to win game is. In addition, we will also speak about its counterpart, a play to win game and differentiate the two.

Pay To Win Games Explained

A pay to win game is always referring to a game, typically free-to-play games, where players can use their real money in the game to obtain a competitive advantage that wouldn’t be available otherwise.

This inevitably creates a very noticeable difference between players who are playing for free and players who are paying in the game. It creates a dissatisfactory experience for the players playing for free because regardless of how good they get, they cannot compete with massive competitive advantages.

Those games furthermore are notorious for causing players to pay a significant amount of money, as the more you pay the better off you are against free and other paying players.

It also lets paying players feel good about themselves by giving them constant wins just because they paid their way to a strategically superior position.

What does pay to win mean? When a player pays to win, it means they’s spent a significant amount of money into a particular game to gain a massive competitive advantage, buffing up their in-game statistics that make them less likely to lose to free to play players.

This format also creates a sunk-cost bias within players that have spent significant amounts of money already into the game. By discontinuing their playthrough of the game, they have more to lose than a player who wasn’t spending any money.

This is a funny meme posted by u/Ledanos on r/ClashRoyale about the differences between a paying player in Clash Royale vs a paying player. This is funny, although by definition Clash Royale isn’t a pay to win game. More on that below.

This allows game publishers to essentially hook in the players willing to pay and the free players typically end up leaving the game sooner than a play to win game (explained below).

An acronym for pay to win is P2W, which may uncommonly be used to refer to the other term of this article, play to win. Typically, play to win is referred to as PTW, but people generally mix the two.

What does P2W mean? P2W means pay to win. It is also less commonly referring to play to win.

So if you hear the acronym in a conversation, know that you want to clarify what they are saying. Regardless of if P2W or PTW is used, players 90% of the time are just referring to pay to win instead of play to win as a more common term and grievance.

How to Tell if a Game is Pay to Win?

To determine if a game is pay to win, investigate whether the game has purchasable equipment or abilities that provide players with a competitive advantage that cannot be earned by playing the game for free.

If a game has that sort of exchange then the game is most likely a pay to win game. Certain pay to win games would provide a small amount of their paid-for in-game currency in very rare occasions to provide free-to-play players with a small taste of the currency and the items they could gain from it.

Don’t get confused by that and assume that the game is a play to win game. Those are just strategic moves by the publisher to entice you to keep playing and ideally start spending money. Those small provisions don’t qualify that game as a play to win.

Meanwhile, other games will provide their paid currency much more frequently that can purchase competitively strong equipment or abilities. These games are debatable on whether they’d fall underpay to win or play to win. The general rule of thumb is if the top equipment is behind a paywall, it’s most likely a pay to win game.

That said, if the paid currency they provide players for free is frequent enough, they can almost get away as a play to win game.

Why Are Certain Games Pay to Win?

Certain games are pay to win because the publishers want players to build a small emotional investment through a free-to-play model and then entice you to pay for further success to make more overall revenue per player.

This model relies on the invested players to really want to go all out, and it tends to work. Pareto’s principle applies well to games like these, where 80% of a pay to win game’s revenue comes from the 20% of players that are spending a significant amount of money.

A play to win game typically doesn’t benefit from these types of players as most play to win games aren’t free to play, meaning you have to pay an initial cost for the game and that’s it.

The exception to this rule is a relatively new model where a free-to-play play to win game now has microtransactions as cosmetics or to unlock additional gameplay.

Games such as League of Legends and Fortnite are notorious for their revenues generated from microtransactions as free-to-play games.

Play to Win – Opposite of Pay to Win

Play to win is the opposite of pay to win. A play to win game is in which spending a real-life currency provides no competitive advantage to players and instead requires players to spend more hours in the game to achieve a higher status.

What is a play to win game? A play to win game is any game that excludes microtransactions for items or abilities that provide a competitive advantage and requires players to spend time and skill as the only metrics to achieve greater items and abilities within a game.

This format is much more supported and accepted by the gamer community overpay to win as gamers like the understanding that by working hard, improving their skills and working towards upgrades, they can match up to even the best players without spending a dime.

What does play to win mean? A play to win is a type of game where players aren’t afforded a competitive advantage by using real-life currency on the game.

Similar to pay to win games, play to win games also have a sunk cost bias. This sunk cost bias, however, is not towards the money spent on the game but instead, the number of time players spent upgrading their equipment and developing their skills.

This ends up hooking in the highly committed players meanwhile newer players don’t typically feel the sunk-cost bias as they haven’t invested much time into the game.

League of Legends hooked me pretty hard previously when I struggled to quit gaming. To learn more about how to quit gaming, click here.

What does PTW mean? PTW means play to win. However, people typically confuse the term to mean pay to win.

As mentioned above, the acronym for play to win is PTW. People typically confuse the two and some people debate on which technically means what, but it’s more so accepted that P2W is pay to win and PTW is play to win.

Pay to Win vs Play to Win

With the breakdown of these two formats, I’m sure you’ve noticed some very big distinctions and similarities.

Firstly, the biggest distinction is the methodologies of progressing in the game. With pay to win games, your progression at a certain point in the game is solely based on your willingness to spend money, and the amount of money would matter.

In a play to win, an unwillingness to spend money won’t actually hinder your ability to progress but in certain play to win games you can spend money to progress faster without getting a competitive advantage.

Great examples are Clash Royale and Clash of Clans. Both games are play to win, where players can progress to the max as all other players without spending a dime. That said, people that do spend money simply exchange that money to progress slightly faster.

This doesn’t create any animosity towards paying players as most players either want to go at their own pace or already hit the peak of the game many years ago.

Gems in clash royale simply allow you to pay for things that you could get through a few days worth of gaming. It allows players who want max cards and levels to max themselves out without spending as much time playing. That said, they aren’t able to gain a competitive advantage or develop skills over free-to-play players.

A similarity that I mentioned earlier was the fact that both game types have a sunk cost bias. A pay to win makes financially invested players want to stay and play to win games make players emotionally invested to stay.

Another similarity is that both game types can still have in-game purchases. In-game purchases don’t cause a game to become pay to win, as long as it doesn’t provide a competitive advantage that wasn’t available without paying.


Is League of Legends a Pay to Win Game? League of Legends is not a pay to win game. It runs a free-to-play model with purchasable cosmetics that don’t provide a competitive advantage.

The cosmetics themselves little to no impact on gameplay, abilities or in-game status.

Players do debate that certain skins make animations and hitboxes harder to see, but the intention with these purchases isn’t to provide competitive advantages and many unbalanced skins are readjusted by the publisher.

For example, Lux’s old Q and E used on various skins used to be difficult to differentiate. Riot Games has now adjusted this skin, including the base model, to create better clarity between the moving animation of both abilities.

Is Clash of Royale a Pay to Win Game? Clash of Royale is not a pay to win game. In-game purchases allow players to progress faster in the game but the paying players gain no additional competitive advantage that isn’t otherwise available to non-paying players.

Is Clash of Clans a Pay to Win Game? Clash of Clans is not a pay to win game. Just like other Supercell games, in game purchases allow players to progress faster but don’t provide a strategic competitive advantage.

Is Fortnite a Pay to Win Game? Fortnite is not a pay to win game. It runs a free-to-play model with purchasable skins, dances and additional cosmetics that don’t provide a competitive advantage.

All these cosmetics, unlike League of Legends, have almost no impact on the gameplay happening in Fortnite.

For example, the modifiable parachute only affects the ego of the player as only the player themself or some friends will ever see it.

Dances aren’t an element of the game’s combat or scoring function, therefore purchasable dances have no impact on the game.

And all the skins follow the same base model, resulting in no visual hitbox changes for any of their skins.